Zanele Muholi‘s portraits of lesbian South Africans are both beautiful art and incredibly courageous work. Her work brings reality and presence to the portrayal of their lives.
Quotes are from Muholi’s interview with Laura Snoad in The Guardian:
Zanele Muholi meshes her work in photography, video, and installation with human rights activism to create visibility for the black lesbian and transgender communities of South Africa
Faces and Phases portrait series, which uses firsthand accounts to speak to the experience of living in a country that constitutionally protects the rights of LGBTI people but often fails to defend them from targeted violence.
One of her projects, Faces and Phases, an archive of portraits of South Africa’s black lesbian community, has been running for 11 years and is her life’s work. There was nothing like this when she was growing up, young and gay in a homophobic society, scarred by extreme violence. South Africa has some of the most progressive equality laws in the world, but that doesn’t translate as safety for the country’s LGBT population. Attacks, murders and “corrective” rapes of lesbians are a brutal reality. Muholi’s project is vital – several of the women she has photographed have since been killed, such as Busi Sigasa, a writer and poet who inspired it. “The risk we take is on a daily basis,” says Muholi, “just living, and thinking what might happen, not only to you but also your fellow activists and friends who are living their lives.”
..Muholi is exposed, and her work has been targeted – her house was broken into and hard drives containing her portraits of women were stolen. She does worry about her safety. “I’m scared. I won’t pretend not to be.” But, she says, what is the alternative? “This work needs to be shown, people need to be educated, people need to feel that there are possibilities. I always think to myself, if you don’t see your community, you have to create it. I can’t be dependent on other people to do it for us.” It is a continuing resistance “because we cannot be denied existence. This is about our lives, and if queer history, trans history, if politics of blackness and self-representation are so key in our lives, we just cannot sit down and not document and bring it forth.”
Her work “is a space for people to be visible, respected and recognised”. And, she adds, “being remembered most of all”